“Unless we get better at building demand and appreciation for the arts, we will not have the strong, healthy cultural life that our communities deserve and that arts organizations need in order to flourish” –Christine DeVita President, The Wallace Foundation.
The latest global shifts in behavioral patterns of audiences is not a new challenge to the arts and entertainment industries as they have grappled with audience development for as long as I woke up to the realities faced by the sector in Africa and in other parts of the world. It is clear that the public are the lifeline to many if not all art industries irrespective of the primary source of income. A visit to any arts institution, cultural event, or live performance or exhibition is a personal or group deliberation pivotal for the survival of those arts institutions, freelancers, and the performers. Even those fortunate to be subsidized by governments or any that do not rely on self-earned funds must take the public into consideration in their planning. Voluntarily or not, visitor orientation and audience research become indispensable factors in arts management, more so today than ever before.
Needless to say that we have, over time, been witnessing a decline in the rates of participation in many art forms such as jazz, classical music, opera, musical theater, ballet, theater, and visual art. Unless we want to see this trickle down to other art forms and entertainment disciplines triggered by the recent rise and the hard impact of digital on creative industries, Innovation is fast needed behind those lonely walls of arts organizations, institutions and behind any new ideas that come out of today’s theatres, recording companies or studios, dance companies, etc.
We need to rely on evidence in order to create strategies and new plans that are fit for the current needs in the changing environment. There is no doubt that engaging audiences is a starting point. Audience development is most effective both at engaging people and in the use of resources, where the target audience is clearly defined through evidence. A great deal of understanding digital resources and tools that are creating the gap in the markets is the next step. Successful audience development in a fast-changing and highly digital era that we have ever witnessed or imagined means repurposing our efforts in redefining our spaces of art delivery and gaining a better grasp of digital means and ways to deliver art forms in the way our audiences expect.
Our strategies and missions need to be more and more audience-focused. You might want to adhere to old ways or cling to what your company or organization has built but the truth is that audience shifts might require a holistic review of the vision that gave birth to the idea of your business or craft because the audience’s consumption patterns have drastically changed. The activities that you now plan should be led clearly to deliver a revised creative objective and you need evidence on current and potential audience behaviors to achieve this and to inform a great plan. Your next show or your next creative idea must be based on market intelligence that has taken into consideration benchmarks and dialogues that are audience-focused shaped by what is going on in the market and audience needs.
This new path is really about creating and sustaining relationships. How this is done may differ depending on the art form, your speciality, or your sector but the essentials are the same for developing a sound audience plan. The fundamental activity is collecting data for your craft or your business. We know that data has been one of the huge missing pieces in the arts puzzle, but that is the kind of old thinking that also needs to be done away with and refocused. Staying in touch with audience needs means communicating consistently with audiences and keeping the communication as a two-way activity. This creates mutually beneficial relationships rather than single transactional ones.
Innovation that is at the heart of our audiences and the use of evidence is a measure of success in digital audience development. You can visit SEAfrica (www.seafricasa.co.za) for more deliberations and new strategies that are being explored and shared by African thought leaders and international experts on the concept of digital audience development. At the core of innovative creators and today’s creative leaders is adhering to the principle of developing and investing in long-term relationships with our audiences. This is achieved by learning your audiences’ new behaviors and the energy and digital resources to generate new, larger, and more diverse audiences require an ongoing commitment to them.
Don’t miss he 6th annual Showbiz Entertainment Africa Conference (SEAfrica) taking place on Saturday, 27 November 2021 as a hybrid conference and virtual exhibition (online and at AMPD Studio, Newtown Junction Mall, Johannesburg).
This year’s edition brings a very insightful hybrid FREE event with the theme “Digital Audience Development” aiming to support, strengthen and advance arts marketing and audience engagement skills of industry professionals. The conference will showcase solutions on how to create and retain audiences by keeping up with online trends and new strategies.
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